A Social Media Reality Check: Time To Get Serious
“Do you have a social media strategy?” I asked. “Absolutely,” she said. “Of course we’re doing social media. We’ve got a Facebook page!” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a marketer say that, I’d be losing a lot less sleep during this economic crisis. It seems a day doesn’t go by […]
“Do you have a social media strategy?” I asked. “Absolutely,” she said. “Of course we’re doing social media. We’ve got a Facebook page!”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a marketer say that, I’d be losing a lot less sleep during this economic crisis. It seems a day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear some marketer claim that they’re participating in social media just because they have a Facebook page, or because they are distributing and tagging photos on Flickr. But their perception is a tad off. While those tactics are valid, they don’t exactly equate to a social media strategy. Given that, some marketers need a reality check. It’s time they got serious with social media.
Understanding the value of social media
More than ever before, consumers are providing feedback about your product and brands via social media websites such as Yahoo! Answers, Twitter, relevant blogs, and many others. For example, Twitter allows users to microblog in real time on just about any topic from nearly anywhere. Think about what this could mean for a big product launch! Prospective customers could have information within minutes that could greatly affect their purchasing decision. Moreover, think about the impact of social media when someone searches for your product or brand, and the first few results contained positive reviews from avid fans? Conversely, what happens when a search reveals a handful of downright negative postings? Either way, social media’s impact on current sales—and even the future of your company—could be enormous. If you think about the power of social media in this context, the value is more than evident.
The power of social media in action
Talking about the value of social media is one thing; seeing it in action is another. Recently, I decided that my 42″ plasma television needed some upgraded sound to go with my upgraded picture, so I embarked on a search for a home theater system. During my research, I came across an unfamiliar brand. While the claims on their website sounded compelling, I wasn’t about to take their word for it. Instead, I immediately started researching their system online, and found just what I was looking for: testimonials of users who already owned the system. Fortunately, the information was very positive, so I purchased it that evening.
Why it works
My above story underscores why social media is so effective: consumers are always seeking validation of their choices from others. But this is hardly something new. Prior to the advent of the social web, I still would have sought out such input when contemplating a significant purchase, only I would have had to rely on advice from knowledgeable friends, or consulted trade magazines. But now, social media allows consumers to tap into feedback from others who have already tried your offering. This should send an important message to marketers: Don’t forget about the needs of your existing customers after they have purchased a product because they are influencing the decisions of those who are considering it.
Putting it into action
If you are finally ready to get serious about social media—and expand your efforts beyond a Facebook page—here are four key steps to help you develop an effective strategy:
Step 1: Assess your reputation. While you should spend weeks or even months mapping out where your customers go online when they’re researching your product category, and then assessing whether the conversation is generally positive or negative, you can get a quick feel for the tone of it by doing a search for your product or your product category on the following online tools:
- Yahoo! Answers
- Google blog search
- Icerocket (a blog and social media aggregator)
- Google alerts
If your product or industry has a popular blog or site where users of the product get information, by all means research there as well. Another good way to get this information is to randomly poll your existing customer base and determine if they are happy with your company and would recommend your product to others.
Step 2: Establish credibility. It is paramount to establish trust and credibility in social media, but you’ll fail at both if your first posts talk about how your company or brand is the best. This is a mistake that marketers make every day, and consumers see right through it, and they don’t hesitate to call you out for it. To avoid this, you should aim to provide value and expertise—just like in a real conversation. Specifically, you need to be transparent, and fully identify yourself as a representative of the brand. Ideally, you want to demonstrate that your intentions are to provide a brand viewpoint to earnestly help those with legitimate issues, and to generally be an active and trusted member of the community. Ultimately, your goal is to participate in the conversation and provide that credible viewpoint that only you can give.
Step 3: Enhance your image. While you can’t completely eradicate the voice of your detractors, you can definitely help shape the conversation (after you’ve established trust and credibility). Besides proactively searching for existing relevant discussions on social media venues, you can start posting your own questions. For example, perhaps you might want to inquire about the kinds of products that users would like to see from your company, or what their favorite product feature is, or what improvements they would like to see. You may even think about rewarding a few of your most fanatical and active social fans with beta versions of your new products so that they can review them, find bugs, and feel that they are part of the development process. All of this will go a long way to enhancing your brand image in social media.
Step 4: Monitor your landscape. Beyond looking for opportunities to add value and/or shape the conversation, you also need to monitor your online reputation. Fortunately, you can do this inexpensively by utilizing the tools and websites listed in Step 1. Doing so will allow you to get a feel for your general reputation. You can also gauge your reputation by utilizing your website analytics software and determine key campaign success metrics including time on site, bounce rate, and referring traffic data. If you have a budget, you can use vendors such as Buzzient and Visible Technologies who will aggregate your online reputation in one easy-to-use interface. But whichever way you do it, be sure to first establish a baseline at the beginning of the campaign for each metric so you can compare them.
Overall, social media offers marketers tremendous opportunity, but there’s a lot more to it than merely creating a Facebook page. Marketers who get serious with social media will derive serious value from it. It’s that simple.
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